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These Blessed Scars

Updated: Jul 13, 2021

We are Odysseus. We are called to be Christ. Their scars were their glory. Just so, our scars can become ours.

I had generally considered myself a relatively unscathed human. Between a devout Catholic family, Catholic grade schools, and Hillsdale, there seemed nothing traumatic to dwell on. And yet, my gentle reader, we all have scars: woundedness, pain, secret depths to our hearts we never sound until they are struck by an unforeseen mallet. This woundedness, my carefully stowed-away cache of sorrows, rose to meet me as never before on an 8-day silent retreat over Christmas Break. It is here, to that silent yet pressing burden in your own soul, that I invite you to come.

The human condition is inherently a wounded one. Original Sin, the first sword to cut our souls, yet leaves its ragged scar through our hearts. Our families, good though they may be, are finite. They were not able to fill our infinite need. In some way, with different sorrows, our hearts have been wounded. Death, our own sins, the sins of others, the faults, the misspoken words, the fears, the tears wept behind closed doors…all these sorrows build up over our lives.

And sometimes, in addition to the thousand inescapable pains, we find ourselves inflicted with an ever-greater, soul-withering cross.

When we pause to gaze at our plight, our response is often despondency. My friends, we are wounded, whether it be by neglect, abuse, trauma, mental illness, sin…the list stretches out interminably, and for all its length, each word it lists bears with it enough significance to crush the heart of its bearer.

It was on my 8-day retreat, when I was recognizing some of my own burdens, that I picked up Homer’s Odyssey from the house’s library during recreation. I went to the homecoming of our hero, the pages of the book where heart meets heart, where the wanderer finds his home, and the man his wife. Here we find Odysseus secretly returned, hiding his identity that he might test his household. And, surprisingly, my tender heart was pierced:

Then the old woman [Euryclea] took the cauldron in which she was going to wash [Ulysses’] feet, and poured plenty of cold water into it, adding hot till the bath was warm enough. Ulysses sat by the fire, but ere long he turned away from the light, for it occurred to him that when the old woman had hold of his leg she would recognize a certain scar which it bore, whereon the whole truth would come out. And indeed as soon as she began washing her master, she at once knew the scar as one that had been given him by a wild boar when he was hunting on Mount Parnassus with his excellent grandfather Autolycus ... As soon as Euryclea had got the scarred limb in her hands and had well hold of it, she recognized it and dropped the foot at once. The leg fell into the bath, which rang out and was overturned, so that all the water was spilt on the ground; Euryclea's eyes between her joy and her grief filled with tears, and she could not speak, but she caught Ulysses by the beard and said, "My dear child, I am sure you must be Ulysses himself, only I did not know you till I had actually touched and handled you," (The Odyssey, Bk XIX).

It is his wound! Odysseus’ wound is the key unbolting the depths of love stowed up for him! Even as he strives to hide himself, his scar betrays his pretense. His scar unveils his true identity. From this moment on, it is this scar which Odysseus uses to prove his return to his servants. This scar from his first adventure, inaugurating his many trials to come throughout his life, also signals the close of his woes.

As I read this passage, Euryclea’s tender cry summoned to my soul’s eye the wounded heart of Mary, pierced with Seven Sorrows. Surely, the pure and gentle hands of Our Mother could not know her dear Son until she actually touched and handled him. In the dawn of the Resurrection, surely her heart resonated with the words of Euryclea. While in her perfect faith our blessed Mother knew her Lord, the totality of her wounded heart quivered with joy when at last she actually touched and handled the Flesh she gave to the adventurer from Heaven. The perfect hands which once she saw luminous in the golden straw of the manger, then darkened with bruises and blood on the Cross, now caressed her again, simultaneously radiating with the divine glory, and exulting in the scars of salvation.

We are Odysseus. We are called to be Christ. Their scars were their glory. Just so, our scars can become ours.

We are wounded, battered, broken. This life is a valley of tears. Yet the riddle of the Cross and Resurrection promise us that every wound, every tear drop, every damage ever done, is a seed capable of sprouting in the glory of Eternal Beatitude. Just as Euryclea’s heart at last could utter its cry upon recognizing scarred Odysseus, just as Mary’s purest love burst forth upon her pierced Son, so too does the Heart of God blaze with overwhelming tenderness at the sight of our wounds. Emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual scars are all chords resonating with the depths of the Divine Compassion.

And so, gentle reader, I invite you this Lent: return home to Ithaca. Your scars are not barriers to the Divine Love. No, they are irresistible poles magnetically drawing the tenderness of the Sacred Heart. It is to the wounds, the secret depths you yourself may strive to cover, that Christ wants to go. The pierced Savior wants to reach into your wound, whether it be small or great, “unimportant” or life-altering, spiritual or “just human,” “accidental” or intentionally inflicted, non-sinful or sinful, and heal. His Heart aches with the longing of Euryclea for our return to Himself.

This ache, this eternal yearning, this pining of the Divine Lover, is the greatest wound of all, the wound which opened the side of the God-Man, scarring the Sacred Heart, emptying His undying love upon the world, that the cavity of His sacred side might welcome to Eternal Rest all the wanderers of the earth.

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